Bolsonaro’s weaponized social media

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attacks national press in a tweet based on false information.

Jair Bolsonaro Social Media Fake News Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On Sunday, March 10, Bolsonaro published a defamatory tweet about Brazilian journalist Constança Rezende, falsely accusing her of wanting to ruin the life of his son Flavio Bolsonaro and seeking his own impeachment.

According to sources obtained by The Guardian, Rezende was forced to suspend her social media accounts after “receiv[ing] veiled threats,” Estado de São Paulo’s director of journalism João Caminoto told the UK newspaper.

The Estado journalist and subject of the attack had been looking into corruption allegations surrounding Fabrício Queiroz, advisor and driver for Bolsonaro’s son.

Jair Bolsonaro Social Media Fake News
“It’s a shame that part of the so-called press, with the least bit of regard for the truth, releases distorted information about the use of corporate cards. One more irresponsibility revealed during yesterday’s live,” he tweeted in March 2019.

Bolsonaro’s latest tweet falls in line with an onslaught of hostile tweets aimed at the mainstream media. Since his inauguration in January of this year, he has accused media outlets such as Globo, Veja and Metrópoles of being “irresponsible,”and “dishonest,” labeling them “villains,” “liars” and of publishers of “Fake News.”

According to a follow-up report published by Estado de São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s allegations against journalist Rezende stemmed from a recorded telephone conversation that she had agreed to in January of this year. She was being interviewed by a journalism student researching for an article who introduced himself as Alex Macallister.

Misinterpreted details of their recorded telephone conversation were originally published in an article featured on ‘Club de Mediapart,’ a collaborative forum run by subscribers of the independent investigative French media outlet Mediapart. This information was then picked up by pro-Bolsonaro Brazilian website Terça Livre, which the president used as a reference for his tweet.

“Constança Rezende, from ‘O Estado de SP,’ says she wants to ruin Flavio Bolsonaro’s life and seeks the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro. She is the daughter of Chico Otavio, employed by ‘O Globo.’ They want to bring down the Government with blackmail, misinformation and leaks,” he tweeted.

However, what the conversation actually states is that investigations into the Queiroz case “are ruining Bolsonaro,” underlying their seriousness and warning that they could lead to the president’s impeachment.

Jair Bolsonaro Social Media Fake News
“Some sectors of the media have no limits, they invent lies 24 hours a day, with the least bit of regard for information,” Bolsonaro tweeted in January 2019.

French outlet Mediapart has since issued a Twitter statement of solidarity with journalist Rezende, admitting that information published on the blog-style forum site was false. “The article is the author’s responsibility and the [forum] is separate from the [Mediapart] newsroom,” it added.

This latest incident comes amidst high levels of speculation over the implications of Bolsonaro’s use of social media, after he tweeted a pornographic video of party-goers during Brazil’s carnival celebrations, describing how he believed it to be an example of what “many carnival street parties have become.”

Bolsonaro has been accused of showing “a lack of concern with the truth of facts,” by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) and the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), who have described the incident as a “use of a position of power to try and intimidate media vehicles and journalists.”

Just as it played a major role in his electoral campaign, Bolsonaro’s use of social media has become characteristic of his government leadership. His Facebook Live broadcasts and personal Twitter commentary frequently generate public interaction which, be it positive or negative, continues to fuel his controversial habits.

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